Commentary

Pasadena is Plaza Mayor for a day

Updated: July 12, 2010, 11:18 AM ET
By Scott French | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- Jessica Retis couldn't bear to watch.

A tense, tough, at times brutal fight between her beloved Spain and Holland had already gone to extra time, and penalty kicks were just up the way. Inevitable. She couldn't take it anymore.

So she missed the greatest moment in Spanish soccer history.

"I couldn't see the last 10 minutes," she said. "I was all the time not watching and asking everybody to tell me what is happening, because it was too much for me. I couldn't help it."

[+] EnlargeSpanish Fans
ESPNLA.comSpanish fans celebrate their country's first World Cup championship the best way they know how.

Retis, 43, of Santa Monica, brought her family -- husband Carlos, son Alberto and daughter Alba -- to the viewing party Sunday at the Pasadena Convention Center's plaza to witness history, then chose not to witness it. But she didn't need anybody to tell her what had happened.

Fans of La Furia Roja, most dressed in red shirts or jerseys and many holding Spanish flags aloft, erupted as Andres Iniesta finished Cesc Fabregas' feed in the 116th minute, lifting Spain to its first World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"This is big. This is fantastic," said Retis, Peruvian by birth but Spanish by marriage. "My husband says he's been waiting for 43 years. We have a tradition of losing in previous stages in the World Cup, and this is the first one."

Around her, Spaniards -- and a few who had become Spanish for the afternoon -- whooped it up like they were in Madrid's Plaza de Colon.

"[This is] everything," gushed Yago Delrinco, 31, who emigrated from Madrid to New York three years ago, and came to Hollywood in February. "It's finally Spain showing that we are one of the top ones. They don't acknowledge us all the time like Italy or Germany -- we're like the south of Europe. We don't count. And now we count. Now we showed them we are the best. And we showed the best soccer ever."

Even hardcore Spain fans might take issue with that. The Spaniards, primarily through Iniesta and fellow midfielder Xavi, played a mesmerizing brand of soccer while convincingly winning the European Championship two years ago, a triumph that signaled them as the favorite, along with Brazil, heading into the World Cup. A stunning loss to Switzerland in the opener and struggles turning huge advantages in possession into goals meant nobody could take Sunday's victory for granted.

Although a few of the faithful certainly did.

As a small but passionate crowd gathered for the L.A. Galaxy-staged viewing party at the convention center -- a few more watched from across the street at Paseo Colorado -- those in red were, generally, far more confident than those in orange.

"Uh, well, they beat Brazil, so I have to imagine Holland has a fighter's chance," said David McCaslin, 34, a Dutch fan from Pasadena, as he waited for the game to begin. "I think the higher the score, the worse their chances go. Because I don't think their defense -- it hasn't had a huge breakdown, but I think they're bound for one."

His prediction: "2-1 in extra time. Spain, unfortunately."

Eric Martinez, 32, of Culver City, a Madrid native who came to California four years ago, was watching with Laura Fernandez, 26, who arrived from Barcelona a month ago to study cinema at UCLA.

"I'm confident," Martinez said. "We conquered the Netherlands once" -- in the 16th century, during the reign of Charles V of Spain and the Hapsburg dynasty -- "we'll do it again."

"And the octopus!" chirped Fernandez, who has connected with fellow Spaniards in L.A. by attending World Cup viewing parties. "The octopus said we are going to win, so I'm sure we are going to win."

Ah, yes. Paul the oracle octopus, a resident of the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, who had correctly predicted all seven World Cup games involving Germany. (A heavily scientific process: He chose the food in one container, marked with one team's national flag, over that in the container with the opponent's flag). Paul's choice for the final: Spain.

"That octopus! Paul the octopus, I swear!" cried Ashley Hiller, 18, who had come from Lake Elsinore for the game. She has relatives in Holland. "I'm always going to be for my team Netherlands, but Spain is really a good team, so it's going to be really hard for the Netherlands to win this. The key is for the Netherlands to try to keep their possession, because when Spain gets the ball, they keep the ball.

[+] EnlargeSpanish Fans
ESPNLA.comFans gathered outside the Pasadena Convention Center for an outdoor viewing of the World Cup final.

"Anything is possible. Let Paul be wrong."

No problem, said Sandy Van Leuven, who was watching with her 29-year-old son, Will.

"Oh, man, let me tell you about Paul the octopus," she said. "Paul the Octopus is German. He's only about German games, so he picked Spain because [he picked Spain, correctly, to beat Germany in the semifinals]. He goes, 'There's no Germany, so I've got to go with who I picked last time.' He doesn't know. He's German."

Quipped Will: "Paul the octopus is going to be delicious in a few days."

Both sets of fans were hoping for an entertaining match between sides looking to attack. No such luck. The Dutch brought a physical dimension -- some Spanish fans termed it "dirty" -- to the game, and used their defensive toughness, especially through midfielder Mark Van Bommel, to deny Spain the space and time to play its trademark possession game.

Spain had its chances, to be sure, but Holland's, mostly on counterattacks, might have been more dangerous. Arjen Robben twice bore down alone on Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a foot save to halt one shot and came out to smother another.

English referee Howard Webb issued 13 yellow cards, nine of them to the Dutch, two of them -- with the accompanying red card -- to defender John Heitinga. The match grew more tense as overtime neared its end, and it appeared that the World Cup final would finish scoreless for only the second time. The first occurred just a few miles away, at the Rose Bowl, where in 1994 Brazil outfired Italy on penalties to win the trophy.

Retis looked away. Everyone else witnessed history.

For the Dutch fans, it was torment. Twice before their team had been to a World Cup final, losing in 1974 to West Germany and 1978 to Argentina.

"It's very disappointing," said Harley Wattimena, 35, of Mentone. He's not Dutch --- his family is from the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, and they've been in the Netherlands for three generations. He's rabid about Dutch captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, whose mother was Malukan and father was half-Indonesian.

"It was a good game," he said, "but what can I say? We lost again. … Iniesta's goal is really bad. I can't describe it any more. It's just a bad result for us."

"I think Spain deserved it," said Pascal Dropsy, 52, a Belgian from Westchester in a Holland jersey and hat. "It's just a game, but three times now we go to the final, and three times we don't win."

The Spaniards were ready to party.

"It's the greatest thing to ever happen to Spain," said Edison Obando, 55, of Whittier, who has family in Spain. "We've been waiting for so many years. After they lost against Switzerland, they just kept rolling and rolling. After Germany, I knew it was going to be a tough game against Holland, but at the end I knew it was going to be Spain, no question."

"It's amazing. I don't have words," Fernandez said. "My family, everybody call me -- 'Viva Espana! Viva Espana! -- and the phone system in Spain has collapsed. I can't call to my family. I'm sure my friends are having fun. I would like to be there."

Martinez called the game "agonizing -- I wish [Iniesta's goal] would have been sooner," and said the triumph is balm for "such a troubled country."

"We were really hit hard with the economic crisis and all that, so this is going to pick up spirits," he said. "And Spain is such a conflicted country, so for once it's not about Catalans or Basques or independence, it's about the same country looking in the same direction."

Delrinco thinks he might have played a role.

"Now I to say I love more the States," he said. "We won the Europe when I was in New York, now we win the World Cup when I'm here in L.A. I will have to move here permanently."

Madrid, he said, was "crazy, nuts. I miss to be there now. That will be awesome. The best party ever."

Scott French is author of the Football Futbol Soccer blog on ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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